Alaska editorial: Looking inward for answers to fishing questions

Posted: Monday, June 15, 2009

Every year, thousands of fishing fans flock to Homer to drop their lines in the waters of Kachemak Bay, hoping to land the big one in the self-proclaimed halibut capital of the world.

Campers and vacationers roll in to the Homer Spit, logging hours at the Fishing Hole and teaching young anglers how to bait a hook, cast a line or simply whack a landed salmon in the head with a rock.

Even more look to reel in their first king salmon as they troll the Anchor River, or perfect their fly fishing techniques as they wade into the pristine waters on the southern Kenai Peninsula.

But for how long?

For a number of years now, anglers, commercial fishermen, subsistence users and various state and federal agencies have stepped up to weigh in on Alaska's fisheries and just what needs to be done to preserve them for future generations. And while it's certainly understandable that everyone comes with their own agenda, at what point do we really start looking out for each other?

So far this summer, Alaska fisheries - the Kenai Peninsula included - have suffered a few setbacks with the closure of the Anchor River to king salmon fishing, the untimely death of some 40,000 late-run silver salmon smolt in the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon and the southeast fisheries' implementation of the one-halibut rule that local charter operators fear will soon move to include southcentral fisheries.

And while few seem to doubt that nature has its own way of thinning the stocks and healing the earth, figuring out just what impact our human presence has on things is a little more difficult.

Many of us have spent the last year speculating on things like the potential impact a Pebble Mine likely will have on Bristol Bay fisheries, and we have learned more about climate change. But at what point will we look at our own behaviors on the water?

On the banks of most any river in the summertime in Alaska, one can spot the guy down the way who snags a salmon, then kicks it back into the water with his Xtra Tufs after unhooking it. He could be the same person you watched work the salmon for 20 minutes to bring it in, playing out line, pulling it in, wearing the fish down before booting it right back in.

And there's the issue of winter recreation on icy lakes, rivers and beaches. Cans, trash and even oil-laden vehicles are often washed back out to sea, or left behind to litter the banks and beaches along our coastlines. There can be no denying the negative contribution this kind of oversight and neglect has on the general health of our water.

Climate change is also one of the usual suspects in this day and age when it comes to explaining what is happening to a given species. Fisheries biologists monitoring area rivers from Seldovia's Fourth of July Creek to the Anchor River tell us that some one to two-degree differences in water temperatures have recently been recorded. Even that small of an impact can exponentially affect salmon stocks, as they do not reproduce the same number of eggs.

Homer is fortunate to have an incredible variety of angling opportunities. Thanks to Nick Dudiak's vision, residents here have enjoyed being able to, very practically, stock their freezers from the king and silver runs planted there.

But that comes with some responsibility on our part. We're up against some seemingly insurmountable odds when facing Mother Nature, as well as large corporations. This might be the summer we learn a painful lesson, as the salmon and halibut we've counted on to help support Homer's economy might not be around forever.

Let's do what we can about our own behavior, respecting the fish and the natural resources around us. Then we will at least know we are doing our part to help preserve our once-prolific runs for future generations.

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